A viral awakening for business

The covid-19 pandemic has shown us what we have always known but mostly choose to ignore; that we live in uncertainty and unexpected events can happen at any time. The next half century will have many of these unexpected events relating to disease, climate, famine, war, and pollution. The question that we all face now is are we open to learning from this, or are we going to pretend the new normal is more of the same, swept under a better rug.

My experience during the pandemic has underlined an intuition that I have had for few years now as both the manager of a household, as well as strategist for large corporates — that business need to shift its focus from the commercial fantasy of the stock market and winning in an industry, to a focus on helping households and communities to thrive, in an increasingly fragile ecology.

The unexpected happens

For me, as an Australian living in France during the pandemic with a Polish husband, I feel like the scales have fallen from my eyes. Growing up in the ‘lucky country’ and benefiting from many generations of folk living without war on our shores (unless you are indigenous Australian), I inherited a nativity and optimism, and could never really understand why my husband would see so much risk in the world, which I mis-read as negativity. His cultural and psychological inheritance is different to mine. His immediate family lived part of their lives under communism where individuals could not speak their truth without fear.

When the pandemic hit, and we watched Macron talk to the French nation about the war on covid-19, I finally understood and connected to the collective knowing that bad things can and do happen to societies. For the first time I felt part of a collective fear at a very deep level, the fear of death and threat to loved ones and the fear of dying alone.

Now as I am writing this post, it is June and we are emerging slowly from lockdown and school closure. When the sun shines here it feels like the slow days of European summer are upon us, and as we walk through the forest, play and swim in the river and bask in the golden light of the long warm evenings we feel held and healed by being in nature. But go anywhere where there are people, and there is anxiety. There are masks, procedures and hand gel, and a continuing low grade fear.

Living persistently with the uncertainty caused by covid has created an awakening of sorts for those who have been able to stay with this discomfort.

As our fears stripped us of our certainty, so did they strip us of much of the nonsense of modern life.

What has remained is the work of taking care of each other and the world in which we live.

Caring matters more than competing

Covid stripped us back to society’s essentials. We all need food, shelter, healthcare, education, beauty and a way to connect to and learn from each other.

These are the basic, most critical elements to our society. Central to this was caring. Suddenly nurses, doctors and the staff at the supermarket were acknowledged and recognised for the vital role they play in life as we know it.

This was seen in the political sphere, as leaders who were able to take a caring stance — Jacinda Arden, Angela Merkel, Tsai Ing-wen — were seen to perform better during covid than those who continued political bombasting.

The caring work of parents, which goes unseen and unmeasured by the traditional conception of the economy, was acknowledged and discussed as school and daycare closures brought into focus the unrealistic expectations business and society have of working parents.

When life was stripped right back to its essentials, what mattered was be able to hold the hand of a dying loved one, to see a child fall asleep feeling safe and loved, to see the faces of family and friends enjoying a meal made with care, and be able to hold each other through fear, loss and joy.

The work of caring, of holding and loving one another — and building the capacity to do this even in the face of fear, uncertainty and personal risk, has been shown as more important than the work of competing to beat ‘the other’.

Nature is telling us to wake up

Covid-19 has also shown us what can happen when we don’t care for nature.

The naturalist Jane Goodall blamed the emergence of Covid-19 on the over-exploitation of the natural world, which has seen forests cut down, species made extinct and natural habitats destroyed. The coronavirus is thought to have made the jump from animals to humans late last year, possibly originating in a meat market in Wuhan, China.

Intensive farming was also creating a reservoir of animal diseases that would spill over and hurt human society, said Goodall, one of the world’s foremost experts on chimpanzees and a longtime conservation campaigner, speaking alongside two European commissioners at an online event held by the campaigning group Compassion in World Farming.

“We have brought this on ourselves because of our absolute disrespect for animals and the environment,” she said. “Our disrespect for wild animals and our disrespect for farmed animals has created this situation where disease can spill over to infect human beings.”

We need to wake up and care for, rather than exploit, the world in which we live.

Business needs to wake up and take responsibility

For too long we have conceived the role of business in narrow economic terms — with the associated framing of people as ‘human resources’ and environmental degradation as an ‘externality.’

This is because we have not had the collective ability to solve for more than one thing at a time (profit), nor the ability to agree on the value of things that are hard to value (diversity, equality, clean oceans, clean air…).

The pandemic has shown that we need business to develop a stronger consciousness and role in helping humanity to thrive in an increasingly fragile ecology.

This stance will take ecology and economics back to its Ancient Greek roots in language. Ecology and Economics share the same root, ‘oikos’ which means the dwelling place, with ‘logia’ which means to count, to re-count or to speak of, and ‘nomics’ meaning ‘to manage’. Taken this way, ecology is the story and the knowledge of the dwelling place and economy its management.

This is articulation of the role of business that we need right now.

As leaders in the business community we need to be shifting our focus and mindset away from winning — in the stock market, in supplier negotiations, vs competitors — to the question of how to help humanity thrive in the increasingly fragile global ecology.

Fry and Eisler articulate this shift in their book “Nurturing Or Humanity” as a shift from “the domination system that ranks man over man, man over woman, race over race, and man over nature…to the more peaceful, egalitarian, gender-balanced, and sustainable partnership system”.

Interestingly Fry and Eisler see many of the society’s ills — gender inequality, income inequality, racism, environmental degradation — linked to the same root cause: the mindset and practice of domination. A mindset expressed succinctly by Trump in his response to those protesting on the death of George Floyd.

“If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time…”

Thank you President Trump for so clearly demonstrating the mindset and ideology that no longer serves us, so that we can let it go.

It’s time for us to awaken from the madness of of a world framed in terms of human domination.

I am hopeful that we — as business leaders, global citizens and loving humans — can let the pandemic be the game changer.

That we can recognise that we have outgrown the game of competition, and that we have the collective capacity to see that the work that remains to be done is not so simple, but much more purposeful.

Business has the power and resources to be a force for good in the world. What is needed is for the business community to wake up and take responsibility for its shared leadership role in managing the global ecology.

How we do this will be my topic of exploration for future essays.

This article was first published on Medium, June 25, 2020.



Ecology and Economy | The Lateral Line


Nurturing Our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future - The Center for Partnership Systems
By Riane Eisler and Douglas P. Fry Nurturing Our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future, by Riane Eisler and Douglas P. Fry, holds the key to a clear perspective on our personal and social options in today’s world, showing how to structure our environments – fro…

Image thanks to https://www.wild-awakening.com

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